January 31, 2011

Lost Weekend

When the weekend starts off with getting puked on on Friday evening, you'd think that it would all be uphill from there. You'd be wrong, but I can see how you'd think that. Okay, so there was no more puking the remainder of the weekend but still that's not a great start. And it got worse.

When I left you last week, Mia was trying to get over the plague a really bad cold and Beth had just picked it up. Owen and I were fine. Or, we were until Friday afternoon.

The first sign that something was wrong with Owen was the puke. I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier but I suspected something was up at that point. By Friday night Owen was so very miserable that by 10:00 he was on top of me in the guest room, my presence being the only thing that seemed to soothe him. He was better than expected on Saturday. Saturday night was a different story. I was in the guest room with him by 9:30. Unlike the previous night, I took my beer with me. After twenty or thirty pages of non-fiction about North Korea, my eyes began to close and I drifted off...only to be awoken at 11:00 for one of the most horrific nights in my personal parenting history. Owen couldn't get comfortable, screamed frequently, and was an oven, running a fever. Owen got no sleep. I got no sleep. We got up for the day at 5:30 AM and Beth overheard us and bailed me out. Two hours later the kids came barreling into the room and scaled Mt. Daddy. And I was up for the day.

As it turned out, Owen had double ear infections so, you know, not his fault.

If you're keeping score at home:
Mia: Recovering after an insanely bad week-long cold marked by extreme coughing, a high fever and no desire to play Lego Star Wars Wii.

Beth: Recovering after a slightly milder cold with no desire to play Lego Star Wars Wii though this is not surprising because she's never had the desire to play Lego Star Wars Wii.

Owen: Sick. Double ear-infections, lack of sleep, fever and general intolerance for anyone who is not daddy. His desire to play Lego Star Wars Wii has never waned.

Me: Fucking tired. I want a bed to myself (or to be shared with my hot wife). I couldn't give a shit about Lego Star Wars Wii.

And how are you?

Posted by Chris at 6:10 AM | Comments (17)

Haiku For Monday #354

I'd like to call a
do-over on this weekend.
Pity. Can't be done.

Posted by Chris at 6:01 AM | Comments (2)

January 28, 2011

The Weeklies #162

The Weekly Measurement. Six inches. Of snow. Not...you know.

The Weekly Affliction. There's something sinister, fever and sniffle-inducing making its way through our house. It's first victim? Mia who has been home from school all week. Now it appears to have attacked Beth. Owen and I will be inflating our bubbles and hiding in the basement.

The Weekly Time Waster. Insidia.

The Weekly Read. A car salesman takes out his aggression on customers who didn't close deals. That is the premise of J. Gregory Smith's Final Price. It is a twisted novel that functions on a few different levels - it's a character study, a mystery, a thriller and just good, pure unadulterated fiction. Definitely recommended.

The Weekly Music. I own somewhere between 50 and 75 of Pearl Jam's "official bootlegs" from the past decade. That didn't stop me from picking up their latest, Live On Ten Legs, a double-length live release. It shows one of the greatest bands still playing today in perfect form. They sound as good if not better than they did when they debuted with Ten so many years ago. And what's more, they don't shy away from playing the songs that made them famous. It's a must for any fan, hardcore or casual.

The Weekly Movie. I wasn't quite sure what to make of Exit Through The Gift Shop. Was it an authentic documentary taking a look at not only street art but the rise to prominence of a documentary filmmaker turned street artist? Or was it a send-up by a prominent street artist illustrating the power of commercialism to corrupt art? Hard to say really. But it was fun to watch.

The Weekly Heroes. Princess Leia and Han Solo. Sure, it looks like Mia and Owen but really, it's Leia and Han. And Han's in the Millennium Falcon. Duh.


The Weekly Quote. Former Friend Matt LeBlanc on fame. "Fame is like a jacket that's too small. It's like, 'Fuck, I want to take this off sometimes.' And then it looks OK for the photo. You can't move, but it looks nice."

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Ted Williams - the "golden voiced" homeless dude discovered a few weeks back - checked into rehab then promptly checked out of it against all medical advice. Now, I fully support and believe in an individual's ability to turn their lives around but when someone teetering on the brink is suddenly thrust into the limelight, offered more money than they've seen in a long time, and the instant gratification of seeing themselves everywhere, what can we expect. I feel sorry for the poor bastard.

The Weekly Question. What musician or band would score the music for the movie of your life?

Posted by Chris at 6:51 AM | Comments (15)

January 27, 2011

Broadcast News

There are were few people on television quite as divisive as Keith Olbermann (that list would include Jay Leno, Rachel Maddow, practically anyone with a gig on Fox News but most especially Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck, and the entire cast of Jersey Shore) so I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that NBC cut him loose. Or that a mutual, amicable loose-cutting decision was made. Whatever. NBC used to be the premier network but now, after a long series of terrible decisions, it's the out of shape fat guy of the networks, sucking wind in a losing race to keep up.

But then the whole decision really is surprising when you think about it.

Olbermann was, after all, MSNBC's marquee talent. He had the most popular show on the left-leaning network and was the liberals' answer to Fox's O'Reilly. In fact, he regularly handed the network minor ratings victories over their Fox News counterparts. They had to be proud of that. Or not.

Aside from faux news personalities like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and people who seem to be able to cut through the crap like Craig Ferguson, Olbermann was one of the few media personalities I found compelling and gave a damn about. I didn't always agree with him - though I'll admit that the majority of time I did - but he put thought into what he said, he said it well, and he had little tolerance for the political machine running over the regular guy (though he himself was not a regular guy because regular guys don't make $7 million a year).

I also understand that he was part of the problem he himself took it upon himself to fight. He didn't reduce the rhetoric but added to it. But, because we're a news-obsessed culture that can't seem to escape from the victimization of the 24 hour news cycle, that will always be the case. There will always be people filling that role. I'd rather have someone like Olbermann advocating my point of view, addressing the issues that concern me, than a nut like Ann Coulter.

I guess - bottom line - I'm sorry to see him go and hope he'll turn up again somewhere soon. Through some very important times in our recent history he gave voice to the things I was thinking and the power in that cannot be underestimated. At the same time, you can't count on the media - no matter which way they lean - to be an advocate for much of anything. Where there's money and ratings and advertising dollars, you simply can't expect something to survive because it's good or makes sense?

What do you think of the 24 hour news cycle? Is it a blessing or a curse? And how has it changed us?

Posted by Chris at 8:05 AM | Comments (9)

January 26, 2011

Big Speech

Mia is sick. That kind of truly miserable sick - high fever, can't breath, and can't sleep for all the sniffling and coughing. Standard operating procedure in my house is for me to haul her into our guest room, power up the humidifier, break out the blankets and sleep with her at night. We cuddle. It makes her feel better and it allows me to sneak in cuddles that a five and a half year old is sometimes reluctant to give up.

So on Monday night I plucked her from her bed, moved her into the guest room, forced her to ingest more ibuprofen to keep her fever down and snuggled in beside her.

Mia: Daddy, I'm not tired now.
Me: I know, but you need sleep.
Mia: I know. I'm just not sleepy. I like the shirt you're wearing, with the big O on it.
Me: Remember who that big O is for?
Mia: President Obama?
Me: Yeah. And you know, I bet he can't sleep either.
Mia: Why?
Me: Because I bet he's a little nervous.
Mia: Why?
Me: Because he has to give a big speech tomorrow.
Mia: What's it about?
Me: It's called the State of the Union. The president gives the State of the Union speech once each year.
Mia: So, he's nervous because it's a big important speech?
Me: Yeah, I bet he is. I'd be. And he gives it at the Capitol.
Mia: Oooh, that's a pretty building where they make laws. Are there people there watching?
Me: Yes. All the people who make the laws are there watching. And the president's an important guy so they show it on TV all around the world.
Mia: You're right. That would make me nervous. So I think he's probably trying to get prepared in the White House right now and his kids are probably telling him "don't worry, it'll be okay" but he'll still be nervous anyway.
Me: I bet you're right. You might not be tired but at least you don't have to give a speech to the world tomorrow.

She asked to watch the State of the Union. I told her I'd TiVo it. We talked about Martin Luther King and the lack of female presidents. Then she drifted off to sleep. I followed shortly after.

I love the fact that Mia is not yet old or experienced enough in the ways of the world to be politically jaded. To her, Obama is just a dad sitting in a big white house in Monkeytown getting ready to give a speech in a big pretty building surrounded by other people who are all trying to do good things. I kind of wish I could view the world through those eyes but I know how terribly naive that would make me. I'll just have to settle for the occasional glimpses through Mia's and Owen's eyes.

And no, I did not watch the State of the Union. I'll read it later this morning. There's less clapping that way.

Did you watch? Thoughts?

Posted by Chris at 7:11 AM | Comments (10)

January 25, 2011

I Didn't Need Both Kidneys Anyway

The one time all four of us got out of the house this weekend was for a dual errand run - Target and the beer store. Mia loves Target (who doesn't?) and Owen loves to go with me to buy beer. And frankly, I like filling a cart up with cases of beer and pushing a kid around with me while I do so. People look at you really funny. Anyway, on the way there, we were stopped at a light in front of the local community college. The gigantic, recently-installed electronic billboard advertised their latest course offerings. Paralegal! Private Investigation! Winning Proposals! I was bummed because I didn't see the one course I needed - Disney Vacation Booking!

Shhhh! Don't tell the kids but we're planning on hitting Disney World sometime in the near future. And by near future I'm talking late 2011 or early 2012. But because the two people I mentioned it to told me that I was already way behind the planning curve, I started investigating. And then my brain exploded.

Trying to figure out how to visit the Magic Kingdom - where to stay, where to eat, meal plans, room rates and packages, transportation, park passes - is like trying to simultaneously play Jenga while reciting pi to the 300th decimal place with Charlie Sheen and a horde of coked-out hookers partying in the next room. Actually, no. I'm guessing it's harder.

There are usually university degrees - even graduate programs and residencies - for tasks this complex with this many variables. The hotel thing I can figure out. That's simple, relatively speaking. Park passes are a little trickier but I'm not a total nitwit; I can probably wade through the details and come out okay on the other side. It's the dining thing that gets me. Not only is it confusing, it's pretentious as hell. And it makes it sound like we're entering some bizarre future world where all food is made of yeast or Soylent Green and is available only in vast, heavily regulated dining halls. Not only do you buy a package but should you find yourself in need of extra confusion, you can take your meals and trade up. There's even a chart as to what types of meals can be traded for others. An example:

1 Table-Service Meal = 1 Character Dining Meal (except meals at Cinderella's Royal Table in Magic Kingdom theme park)

2 Table-Service Meals = 1 Signature Dining Experience (such as Citricos at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa) or 1 Character Dining Experience at Cinderella's Royal Table in Magic Kingdom theme park or1 Disney Dinner Show (category 2 or 3 seating only, subject to availability) or 1 booze-fuelled orgy with Snow White and three dwarves (dwarves selected by the management and subject to availability; adults only!).

Okay, I made that last part up. Who came up with this? Why does it have to be so complex? And what is category two and three seating? I'm imagining my Category Three family handing tickets to an usher only to be led down a vast dark corridor with an extremely limited view of the stage. Watch your step around that equipment folks. That's where we keep Walt's cryogenically frozen body. Was that a bat? I'm getting the hell out of here! Of course, for that they'd probably charge extra, like, five table-service meals, an describe it as a magical show with Walt-side seating.

Have you ever done the Disney thing? How did you figure it out? And how much do you think I can get for a kidney?

Posted by Chris at 7:22 AM | Comments (40)

January 24, 2011

I Am A Huge Dork

I am a closet Doctor Who fan. Of course, well, I've left the closet now which is fine because it was dark in there.

When I was a kid, I used to sneak out of my room in the middle of the night, cross the hall into our small upstairs TV room, sit on the way-80s couch (a beige woven material with a light Nordic-looking wood frame) and turn on the Sony Trinitron that got five stations one of which was PBS that, late at night on weekends, invariably ran old episodes of Doctor Who. I say middle of the night but it was probably, like, 10:00 because PBS usually shut itself down at midnight in those days.

In college - with nothing better to do like write term papers or study for geology tests - I wound up at my local Blockbuster renting an old Doctor Who episode. And the memories of those late nights with PBS came flooding back. I was in love. By the time I graduated, I'd accumulated not only a major in Far Eastern history and a minor in English but a vast collection of Doctor Who episodes.

A few years later I discovered that people - writers who had contributed to the original series - had written a series of books. I bought them. I devoured them.

Many more years later the series was rebooted and I paid little attention. Until Christmas when iTunes had each of the five seasons for $10 a pop. So I'm catching up. And it's freaking brilliant. Of course Beth doesn't agree. She just looks at me and says watching Doctor Whatsit again? and she giggles and I laugh because I know that she knows the real name of the show but she's just making fun of me.

And that's okay. Because I'm a dork who loves a forty year old show about a dude who travels time and space in an old blue police box.

Posted by Chris at 7:03 AM | Comments (23)

Haiku For Monday #353

It's now official -
It's three degrees outside and
I'm ready for spring.

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM

January 21, 2011

The Weeklies #161

The Weekly Pop Culture Time Suck. I'll admit it. I was curious. Which is why I tuned in to the American Idol premier. I wanted to see the new judges and it wasn't long before I was hooked.

The Weekly Time Waster. Slash Boom.

The Weekly Read. I love Patton Oswalt. He is one of the funniest, smartest stand-up comedians I've ever heard. I was thrilled when his first book hit shelves earlier this month. Zombie Spaceship Wasteland is a collection of laugh-out-loud personal recollections sprinkled with odds and ends like notes on a film that doesn't exist and excerpts from a graphic novel. Once again Oswalt shows just how damn talented he is. Definitely worth picking up a copy.

The Weekly Music. A couple of days back I downloaded a copy of The Decemberists' new album The King Is Dead. And what a fantastic album it is. It's filled with energetic, succinct and rootsy songs. The only true complaint I have is that, clocking in at just under 40 minutes, the album is too short. When the album ended, I wanted more. I can only hope they follow up with something similar...and soon.

The Weekly Movie. We finally got around to watching Inception. I'm not sure I completely understood what was going on but it was a helluva good movie.

The Weekly Fear-Monger. According to the Toronto Sun, Seth Rogan recently got a chance to sit down and talk with George Lucas. What Lucas said surprised him just a bit:

He recalls, “George Lucas sits down and seriously proceeds to talk for around 25 minutes about how he thinks the world is gonna end in the year 2012, like, for real. He thinks it.

“He’s going on about the tectonic plates and all the time Spielberg is, like, rolling his eyes, like, ’My nerdy friend won’t shut up, I’m sorry...’

“I first thought he (Lucas) was joking... and then I totally realized he was serious and then I started thinking, ’If you’re George Lucas and you actually think the world is gonna end in a year, there’s no way you haven’t built a spaceship for yourself... So I asked him... ’Can I have a seat on it?’

The Weekly Schadenfreude. Octomom cashed in...again. This time, though, it's quite possibly more disturbing that squeezing eight kids out of her hoo-ha. No, this time she's wearing a corset and whipping a very large man wearing only a diaper. I promise I'm not making this up. Check out any of the gossip sites. I'm not giving you a link because I don't want to be responsible for you clawing your eyes out.

The Weekly Question. In your opinion, what's the funniest movie ever made?

Posted by Chris at 7:03 AM | Comments (15)

January 20, 2011


Do you want to hear something absolutely mind-blowing? Sure you do. Brace yourselves. Beth and I have been together almost exactly 18 years. Okay, I'm a couple days early but nearly 18 years ago, Beth picked me up in one of the bathrooms of our college dorm. A few days later we moved in together. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Our first apartment was tiny - you could literally touch all four walls of the living room if you seated yourself precisely in the middle. We shared a college loft bed which we quickly disassembled when a) we hit our heads one too many times and b) it got really hard to climb into drunk which invariably resulted in either head injury or perilous falls. Our second apartment was bigger - two bedrooms. We adopted a cat, got a bigger bed, accumulated some shared possessions, and lived through several rounds of crazy neighbors. And then we moved out of our college town and back to Washington where we got jobs and cars and, eventually, houses and children.

It's amazing how the time has flown.

Me: Did you know your mom and I have been together for 18 years?
Mia: Eighteen? No way!
Me: Have you ever noticed that time is stretchy?
Mia: No it's not!
Me: Well, okay it's not. There are always 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day. But haven't you noticed that the good times seem to fly by so quickly while the bad times stretch on and on?
Mia: Like when you and I play games that goes fast but afternoon at school takes forever.
Me: Yeah. Just like that.

Yeah. Just like that.

Posted by Chris at 6:42 AM | Comments (13)

January 19, 2011


If you know anything about the Greater Monkeytown Metro Area, you understand that Monkeytown is second only to L.A. on the National Shittiest Traffic Index (NSTI). As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have an 11 mile commute. If I leave for work before 7:00 AM, it takes me 25 minutes or so. After 7:00? Up to an hour. So I've started to work from home a bit more.

This is a monumentally fantastic development for a myriad of reasons.

  1. The commute rocks. You can't beat two flights of stairs.
  2. I get to see my kids during the day. I can pop my head in upstairs, say hi and retreat to work.
  3. I can ditch the suit in favor of jammies or jeans and t-shirts.
  4. I'm saving cash on gas and lunch.
  5. I get a lot done. I can talk to myself out loud without anyone thinking I'm in need of a straightjacket, I can concentrate without getting office-bombed, and listen to music as loud as I want to.

Other than the fact that my cell phone reception sucks in my basement office, there's only one real downside - sloth.

I am an only child. I am happy being with myself for extended periods of time. But when I'm working from home there comes a point at which I have to get up, stretch my legs, get out of the dark basement and interact with other humans. This point usually occurs on the second straight work-from-home day around 2:00 in the afternoon when I realize that I haven't shaved in two days, I'm wearing the t-shirt I slept in, I kinda smell and my ass has somehow defied the laws of physics and become one with my desk chair.

So I get my ass out of my chair, go kiss my kids on the head, grab a drink of water. Then return to the basement and let my ass and chair bond a little more before making the one staircase commute home for the evening.

What's your work day like? And your work environment?

Posted by Chris at 7:30 AM | Comments (18)

January 18, 2011


Our house was built in the mid-80's. When we bought it a few years ago, we bought it from the original owner who took amazingly good care of it. The work he did on it was, for the most part, pretty good. He finished the basement himself, building all the cabinetry in the basement office from trees he cut down in the backyard. He installed storage in the attic, built a nice deck out back and kept the place amazingly landscaped. But the house isn't without its faults. On the main floor, for example, it appears as if every outlet and major appliance is tied to the same circuit. The tile floor in the kitchen is massively uneven (a blind monkey on acid could have done a better job) and the grout disappears with each sweep. A pantry cabinet was installed directly over an air vent. As a result, anything in the lower part of the cabinets melts when the heat is on during the winter. And now our appliances have begun a slow mutiny. Our buttonless microwave is operating fine but it's buttonless and, therefore, a tremendous pain in the ass. Our fridge has a death rattle. For some strange reason, our oven randomly turns itself off. And our dishwasher won't turn itself off at all.

Though we've discussed it before, we've arrived at the conclusion that the only appropriate course of action is gutting the kitchen. Because we are all about completely disproportionate responses around here.

We have an idea of what we want. It looks something like the old House Of The Future cartoons from the 50s in which an elegantly dressed housewife pushes a button and miraculously a fully prepared meal and a completely set table pops out of the floor while a robotic hand appears from the ceiling and lights a candelabra. Unfortunately we've learned that that technology hasn't yet been invented and if it had our future kitchen would cost about a billion dollars. We don't have that kind of money.

We have a contractor, a slight idea of what we want to happen and an understanding that we will be ordering takeout or eating anything that can be cooked in the dining room for about two months. But I'm sure we're missing something.

Got any tales of remodeling horror to share? Are you itching to redo part of your home?

Posted by Chris at 7:13 AM | Comments (27)

January 17, 2011

Disposable Technology

I just got a brand new laptop. And it's highlighted something of a personality crisis.

In my heart, I'm a Subaru driving, Chucks wearing, vegetable eating, Apple using, novel writing indie musician living somewhere around Portland, Oregon. But in truth I'm a VW driving, fancy work shoes wearing, lazy guy with a decent Fender guitar living just outside Washington, DC banging all this out on a new PC.

Now, there are lots of good reasons for who I am, why I'm doing what I'm doing and where I'm doing it. And I'm not at all unhappy. I drive a VW because I got it used and cheap five years ago and quickly paid it off. I don't wear Chucks because I mowed the grass in the pair I own one too many times and they turned from gray to a bizarre shade of green that is not found anywhere in nature. I haven't recorded an album because, frankly, I'm not that talented and even if I was I don't have that kind of time. Same goes for the whole great American novel thing. Maybe one day. I live in DC because it's my adopted home (though I'll always consider myself a native Texan). And it's where my family is. That's good enough for me. Why the PC? Because the Mac equivalent was three times more expensive.

I don't like to pay a lot for technology because I know that as soon as I plonk down my credit card number something bigger (or smaller as the case may be), faster and awesomer (which isn't a word but should be) will hit the shelves.

I love my new laptop. But it will always remind me that I'm not driving a Subaru through Portland to play in my indie band after completing my great American novel. But of course in three years it'll be obsolete and I'll have moved on.

How does your lifestyle differ from your personality?

Posted by Chris at 7:40 AM | Comments (15)

Haiku For Monday #352

Sleep. Sleep tonight and
may your dreams be realized.
MLK. A dream.

Posted by Chris at 7:26 AM | Comments (1)

January 14, 2011

Delurking Day 2011

I love the smell of delurking in the morning. Welcome to Delurking Day 2011!


You know what to do. If you're a lurker, open of the comments and reveal thyself. If you comment frequently, well, go ahead and leave me a comment too.

Posted by Chris at 6:33 AM | Comments (91)

January 13, 2011

To The Teeth

Our theme this week is, apparently, guns.

The quote from the bumper sticker I mentioned earlier in the week is from one of my favorite authors - Robert Heinlein. I fell in love with Heinlein's stuff when I was a kid and I've never fallen out of love with it. But on this - as I think was demonstrated over the weekend - Heinlein was incorrect. It's tempting to believe that when we're armed we're all more polite to each other but what's the value in that? That's manners through fear, respect of firearms and the damage they do, not of each other. I live in a state in which its insanely easy to get a concealed carry permit. I used to work with a dude who carried a loaded gun under the driver's seat of his car. He was careful. Others are not. It scares the shit out of me to know that I'm driving beside folks who are armed, some of whom are careless, some of whom aren't right in the head. So, no, an armed society is not a polite society. It's a scared society, based on fear.

Yesterday, I talked about letting kids have toy guns and the environment in which I grew up. What I didn't mention is that I started shooting actual guns by around age 14. And I'm pretty good. Later, in high school, I was trained out of a need for personal protection. And surrounded by guns on a daily basis (long story). So it's not like I'm uncomfortable with the idea. I don't own a gun nor will I ever but I do understand the appeal as well as the need for self-protection. I don't begrudge anyone their rights. But I do think you can take those rights too far.

The problem is that there's no way to have a rational, even-keeled debate about guns in this country. It's too divisive an issue and quickly devolves into political bickering or flat-out gunplay. Personally, I'm not convinced that our forefathers, while they were drafting the Constitution, foresaw the prevalence of guns in what is our relatively safe country (i.e., there is, at the moment, no dictatorial country trying to suppress our people and freedoms from whom we might all be called upon to wrest control). And the argument gets treated as binary - gun control or no gun control. Can't we talk about the reasons a 47 year-old pharmacist in Michigan would need an AK-47? I'd argue that there's no good reason.

With respect to the mess in Arizona this past weekend, there was lots of talk about access to proper mental health care. Yes. I agree. There has to be better access to the care troubled and sick individuals need. Right now - this very instant - 60% of the people who need treatment aren't getting it; they can't afford it or don't know where to get it. That needs to be improved. But let's not lose sight of the entire issue by focusing on one-half of the equation. Why not try and address both health care and guns?

What's your take on our gun-obsessed culture? And what's the solution?

Posted by Chris at 6:22 AM | Comments (14)

January 12, 2011


When I was growing up, we had a strict no toy gun rule in our house. After Beth and I had Mia and were confronted with the massive piles of plastic in toy form, we decided to adopt the same rule. We had great success enforcing this with Mia since she had absolutely no interest in guns. We've been less successful with Owen. And by less successful, I mean we're screwed. And I'm wondering if we shouldn't have seen that coming, if it wasn't a foregone conclusion.

In noodling this through, I started thinking about my friend Bill.

Bill was one of my greatest friends growing up, more of a brother than anything. We were born three days apart, lived a few houses away from each other on the same street. Our mothers were both teachers, eventually at the same school. I spent more time at Bill's house than I did any other house but my own. And one of my favorite things to do at Bill's house was to play guns. He had one - this little silver two-shooter with a pearl handle - that I loved the most. Only now do I realize that it's the type of gun a hooker would carry. But I didn't know that then. I only knew that I loved it when all the boys (and occasional girl, someone's younger sister or something) got together, chose sides and use the neighborhood as our battle field. Me and my hooker-gun took out plenty of bad guys.

Like I said, my parents didn't let me own toy guys. So how to explain this behavior? I have two theories which I think, working together, made this happen.

1. Be careful what you make taboo. My parents once told me they had friends who tried a little social experiment with their kids. They made coffee off-limits, told them it was the worst thing they could ever put in their bodies and warned them what would happen if they ever caught them with a cup. They soon discovered their kids were sneaking out in the middle of the night to drain pots of coffee at the local Denny's. Maybe making guns off-limits had a hand in my own behavior.

2. I'm a boy. Before we had Owen, I didn't know where to come down in the whole nature versus nurture argument. Now that I have Mia and Owen, it's startlingly obvious that there's an inherent difference between boys and girls that cannot be underestimated. Boys are pre-programmed to hit things with sticks, throw themselves off of furniture and turn anything into a gun.

This knowledge made me feel like much less of a parenting failure when, after I'd carefully drawn and cut out Stormtrooper masks for both Mia and Owen and refused to fashion guns out of the remaining cardboard, Owen shot me with plastic spork. Like Star Wars, you pick your battles and hope you don't get stuck on Hoth without a jacket. The rest is kind of up to the whims of The Force.

* We have no idea why, but Owen refers to guns as gummies. Like I said, no clue.

Posted by Chris at 7:05 AM | Comments (22)

January 11, 2011

An Armed Society

On my way home from work on Friday I found myself behind a car with one of the most awesome bumper stickers ever. It said, quite simply: An Armed Society Is A Polite Society.


Then this weekend I read this:
The suspect in the weekend shooting at an Arizona political meet-and-greet is scheduled to make an initial appearance before a federal magistrate Monday.

Jared Lee Loughner will appear in a Phoenix, Arizona, courtroom at 2 p.m. Monday (4 p.m. ET), prosecutors said.

He is accused of opening fire outside a Tucson supermarket, where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents Saturday. Six people were killed and 14 others wounded in the shooting.

Giffords remained in critical condition Sunday after being shot through the skull, while a federal judge, a congressional aide and a 9-year-old girl were among the dead.

So, yeah, how's that polite society, armed society thing working out for you?

Posted by Chris at 7:06 AM | Comments (22)

January 10, 2011

The Best Books in 2010

A little birdy told me late last week that I'd completely forgotten to pick my best books of 2010 as promised about halfway through December. What can I say - things got busy during the holidays. So, without further ado, here are my top picks from last year in no particular order because trying to figure out the very best after already cutting down the list to the handful below would hurt my brain.

Eating Animals (Jonathan Safran Foer). It's rare that non-fiction makes it onto a "best of" reading list but Eating Animals was a truly exceptional book. The book chronicles Foer's own investigation into the production of food rooted in his desire to make an informed decision about what to feed his son. It is a completely unbiased evaluation. It's not until the end that you learn what Foer ultimately decided. It also serves as a fantastic companion piece to the documentary Food Inc.

The Old Man And The Sea (Ernest Hemingway). There's absolutely no way I should have been allowed to make it to age 37 without reading The Old Man And The Sea. Yet, somehow that's precisely what happened. I haven't read much Hemingway and haven't been a fan of the work that I have read. I found an old copy of Beth's while I was cleaning off a few shelves, took it upstairs and started it before bed one night. I was, no pun intended, hooked. It was a marvelous story told by a master. Only someone of Hemingway's caliber could have packed so much story into such spartan prose.

The Serialist (David Gordon). The Serialist is probably the strangest thing I read all year. It is about, let's see, a ghostwriter, a freeloading prep school brat, vampire novels and a serial killer. Odd, yes, but it works. It works so well, in fact, that I still remember my disappointment when I turned the last page. It's crude, funny, literate and touching all, somehow, simultaneously.

Cut, Paste, Kill. (Marshall Karp). There's no way I can't include my buddy Marshall's latest. Cut, Paste, Kill is the fourth fantastic adventure of detectives Lomax and Biggs. They're back, better than ever and in rare form as they investigate a series of murders. The common denominator? A scrapbook left at each scene. Marshall's a good guy and a great writer. If you haven't checked him out, do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

Evening's Empire (Bill Flanagan). Evening's Empire tells the story of a fictional band - The Ravons - and follows its members from its founding in the sixties alongside the Beatles and The Stones, through present day. It's about music, sure, but it's also a wonderfully told story about friendship, greed, fame and getting older. Flanagan is an excellent storyteller and the tale he tells is massive, detailed and a fantastic experience.

Savages (Don Winslow). With one book - The Winter of Frankie Machine - Winslow became one of my favorite authors. His ability to tell a compelling story while painting such a vivid back-story without slowing the momentum of the story is amazing. You walk away from his books feeling as though its events happened and its people existed. Savages is slightly different. It's brief, it's violent and it's spartan. And yet somehow this departure feels very much like Winslow and works brilliantly.

The Human Bobby (Gabe Rotter). I'd never heard of Gabe Rotter nor any buzz about the book. The description sounded intriguing. And it was. It was really nothing short of amazing - a mystery wrapped up in a life's tale which kept the reader blind to the approaching twists and turns. I read a lot of books. I'm not easily surprised or impressed. This was checked both those boxes.

What kind of literary awesomeness did I miss?

Posted by Chris at 6:45 AM | Comments (13)

Haiku For Monday #351

It was just Friday.
Seriously. How can it
be Monday morning?

Posted by Chris at 6:43 AM | Comments (4)

January 7, 2011

The Weeklies #160

The Weekly Expensive Fish. In Japan a ginormous tuna fetched $396,000. I don't know what that has to do with anything but it's interesting, right? No?

The Weekly Publicity Stunt. Did you know it's officially the Year Of The Pie? Does that sound dirty to anyone else? (Well, I'll never get a press release from those folks again!)

The Weekly Read. I can almost guarantee that the first book I finished in 2011 will go on my list of best books of the year - The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. It was an utterly absorbing, wonderful book that I discovered at just the right time. I'd been aching for a story I could sink my teeth into, that involved me. And that's exactly what I got. It was funny, it was odd, it was wonderful.

The Weekly Life Imitating Art. Did you watch Lost? Do you remember those omnipresent numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42? In a weird case of life imitating art, the MegaMillions jackpot - valued at $355 million had something in common with that series of numbers - 4, 8, 15, 25, 47, 42.

The Weekly Music. Do you remember the Banana Splits? It was a surreal and terrible kids' show from the 70's. I have the theme song stuck in my head. It's awful. If there was a way to remove the song from my brain using standard-issue office supplies, I totally would.

The Weekly Schadenfreude. See The Weekly Music. Or Lindsay Lohan (again). Those are both good but I'd particularly like to commend CNN on trying their hardest to get to the bottom of that whole dead-birds-falling-out-of-the-sky thing by throwing the issue to noted bird expert Kirk Cameron. Wait. Kirk Cameron - star of the long-dead sitcom Growing Pains - isn't a noted bird expert? He's a fundamentalist Christian? And he'd know about this bird thing why? To his credit, Cameron kinda said the same thing in the interview, eschewing the notion that it was a sign of the end of times. Especially since all Biblical scholars know that Kirk Cameron being interviewed as an expert on anything is a sign of the end of days.

The Weekly Question. What's the first selfish purchase you'd make if you won the lottery?

Posted by Chris at 7:00 AM | Comments (29)

January 6, 2011


I read something yesterday that cleft my brain in twain (no pun intended) - the Mark Twain classic Huckleberry Finn is being reissued...and edited. The target of the editors' red pens? Rampant use of the "n-word." And more:

A new US edition of Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is to be published with a notable language alteration: all instances of the offensive racial term [term removed] are to be expunged.

The word occurs more than 200 times in Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884, and its 1876 precursor, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which tell the story of the boys' adventures along the Mississippi river in the mid-19th century. In the new edition, the word will be replaced in each instance by "slave". The word "injun" will also be replaced in the text.

The new edition's Alabama-based publisher, NewSouth books, says the development is a "bold move compassionately advocated" by the book's editor, Twain scholar Dr Alan Gribben of Auburn University, Montgomery. It will have the effect, the publisher claims, of replacing "two hurtful epithets" in order to "counter the 'pre-emptive censorship' that Dr Gribben observes has caused these important works of literature to fall off curriculum lists worldwide."

Now, I realize that I edited that piece to delete the offensive word. But that's because I don't like the word, have never said it, and it's my blog. But is it right to change an accepted - even classic - piece of literature with nearly unsurpassed importance in the American culture because a word is now considered offensive? Does it not change the work itself? Or is that acceptable if the publisher's motives - to head off censorship and get the book re-entered in school curricula - are as noble as they say?

What do you think - good move or defacing a classic?

Posted by Chris at 6:21 AM | Comments (53)

January 5, 2011

Living With Terror (Or, The Perils of Monkeytown)

On Saturday we hauled the kids to Monkeytown. To make the trip more enticing (because frankly we just needed to get the kids and ourselves out of the house) we took the subway into town. Our destination? The American Indian museum. Despite the fact that it was a hit the last time we went - we had to drag them out after four hours - it fell flat this time around. Children, oh they are fickle. So we went to the Botanical Gardens across the street which we did not expect to be a hit but, surprisingly, was. Yay us. Then we strolled the grounds of the Capitol, checking out the Capitol Christmas tree which is always far superior to the White House tree.

Then all hell broke loose.

Cops surrounded the place, a few driving around with PA systems on asking people to leave as quickly as possible. Now, people in DC are used to road closures, motorcades and general unanticipated off-limitness. But this wasn't ordinary. We each picked up a kid and walked. Quickly. All the while trying to honestly answer their questions about what was going on without panicking them. We made it to our subway stop, hopped on a train and started searching news sites to see what was going on. It wasn't until we were in the car, almost home, that we got our answer - a commercial airliner wandered into the restricted airspace over DC and lost radio contact. Fighter jets were scrambled, buildings were evacuate, but it turned out to be no big deal.


(This will start off sounding unrelated but it isn't.) I was watching House Hunters the other night and a woman was looking for an apartment in Tel Aviv. She saw the obligatory three houses and automatically ruled out one because it didn't have a bomb shelter. I started trying to think what it must be like to live in a place where a bomb shelter is not a paranoid dream but a necessity. Do you compartmentalize the threat of everyday terror, dealing with it only when you have to? Or do you fully integrate it into the fabric of your everyday reality?

Most of us don't live in that kind of world with those types of threats. But racing out of DC, carrying our children, trying to keep them safe from some unknown threat, made me think. And scared me a little bit too, to be honest.

I honestly had this thought run through my mind: What if this is really and truly it and this is how it ends, no foreboding, no signs, just this...and I just yelled at my kids for not listening to me and it would suck if that was our last interaction so let's keep walking...fast.

I don't know where to go with this but here: most of you sitting in front of your computers reading this exist within some relative safety. You don't have to compartmentalize or integrate violence or terror; it simply doesn't exist, at least in abundance. But for many it does. And the little tiny glimpses into that world, the more it horrifies me.

Posted by Chris at 7:02 AM | Comments (21)

January 4, 2011

M-M-M-My Ramona

On New Year's Eve, we gathered the kids around the TV and watched a couple of movies. Owen retired after Shrek Forever After but Mia stayed up to catch the second half of the double feature - Ramona and Beezus.

Now, if you've lived in a cave or are a boy and have never heard of Beverly Cleary's Ramona books, here's what you need to know: they are brilliant, funny novels about an imperfect family and a truly unique little girl that were written long ago but still hold up wonderfully today. Ramona, the middle child, has attitude and spunk and a penchant for being her own unique self.

It should not be a mystery why Mia hearts Ramona so much.

The things I impart to my kids - the things they pick up just because they happen to share genetic material with me and live with me - sometimes give me pause and make me reevaluate who I am, what's important to me and how I act. The other day Owen ran around the house saying dammit and hitting chairs "just like daddy." Mia has managed to pick up my anticipatory anxiety. And maybe its because I've watched too much Hoarders lately but she seems hell-bent on saving absolutely everything.

But on balance I think we're doing alright with Mia simply because of this - she refuses to be anyone but her own person. Mia doesn't like coloring inside the lines because it is no fun. She can, but everyone else does it so why should she? There is no space in her room left untouched - things hang from the ceiling, butterflies adorn the walls, books are everywhere and once a week or so she decides she wants to decorate further, hanging her cheap, plastic jewelry from all the door knobs and wardrobe handles. Over the weekend she decided that she needed her own reminder to wash her hands more frequently so she launched a campaign to design and hang The Flu Is No Fun signs in all our bathrooms. After we tuck her in at night, we invariably hear little footsteps running down the upstairs hall. When we turn in for the night, we find little notes on our pillows. Mia refuses to get caught up in any popular fashion trend. In fact, she came up with this ensemble for school yesterday.


While I wish she'd learn to throw stuff away, clean her room by herself once in a while and stop worrying about stuff that hasn't happened yet, I can't help but feel heartened by the fact that Mia is so unique and that she could care less what other people think of her. Because isn't that what so frequently gets kids into trouble? And adults too, for that matter.

Posted by Chris at 7:03 AM | Comments (23)

January 3, 2011

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Here I am back at work.

Here I am, staring at my work computer and the email piling up. It's a little depressing, to be honest. I mean, I haven't worked since December 22nd and in the intervening days I've been with my family right about now, eating breakfast, sipping coffee, watching Toy Story or Monsters Inc., or Barbie Diamond Magic Dancing Three Musketeers Princess Castle. But I don't get paid to do that (though someone really should pay me for sitting through those damn Barbie movies which are phenomenally bad).

But what did I do during the break? The better question is what didn't I do?

  • Attended an awesome Christmas carol-singing party (thanks Kimberly!)
  • Wrapped presents and watched them get unwrapped
  • Played several rounds of Lego Star Wars on the Wii
  • Read a few books
  • Bought a few books
  • Went ice skating, fell on my ass, realized I hate ice skating with a passion
  • Watched a few movies
  • Digitized most of my DVD collection
  • Watched most of the third season of the Doctor Who reboot and realized it was pretty much the greatest thing on TV right now
  • Visited Monkeytown; got evacuated from Monkeytown due to a plane in restricted airspace
  • Worked (a little of the time); ignored work (most of the time)
  • Made cheese fondue; ate it
  • Rocked out with a new three-piece band two members of which are under age six. I'm calling us The Reluctant Sleepers since I also spent quite a few sleepless nights with each of the kids for various reasons.
  • Culled my book collection donating half the books we own to charity
  • Ate lots of chocolate
  • Drank beer
  • Put on weight
  • Dreaded the return to work
  • Declared email bankruptcy (in other words, marked everything as read and started fresh in the new year)

I think every time you take a break from your normal routine, it's potentially life-changing. At least it is for me. I always come away from it with something profound - a desire to avoid sweating the infamous small stuff or worry about the things that are truly worth worrying about. Unfortunately it's hard not to backslide. But I do know this - my family is awesome and despite the fact that I often got grumpy only because I was out of my element since the day-to-day yielding to kid demands isn't my normal domain I love them and adore them and treasure them and look forward to comparing this Christmas to the next. And the next after that. And the next. There is no way you can avoid getting infected by the spirit of the holidays when you've got kids. At least kids like mine. There was a magic to this Christmas that I hadn't felt since I was, myself, a kid. Its my favorite time of the year and this year was no exception.

It's understandable, then, why I'm ever so slightly exhausted. But like 2010 itself, I'm a little mystified by the fact that the holidays just upped and disappeared on me so quickly. They were awesome. But way too short.

And what were the highlights of your holidays?

Posted by Chris at 8:05 AM | Comments (13)

Haiku For Monday #350

Dante forgot the
post-holiday return to
work circle of hell.

Posted by Chris at 8:03 AM | Comments (2)